Las Vegas Sun

January 19, 2018

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FERC chairman: Nevada power customers need to be freed from the utility


Steve Marcus

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff served two terms as Nevada’s advocate for customers of public utilities.

Las Vegas hosts the sixth annual National Clean Energy Summit today at Mandalay Bay.

The event brings together energy experts from around the nation to talk about the benefits of renewable energy for consumers, the environment and business interests.

Every year, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., helps convene the expert panelists to discuss renewable energy technologies and applications. This year, Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, joins the discussion as a keynote speaker.

Wellinghoff grew up in Reno and advocated for consumers as the attorney general’s consumer advocate before he was appointed to the FERC and went to Washington, D.C.

He joined the Sun and KUNV-FM 91.5 to talk about the conference, how consumers can make money from renewable energy, the future of electric cars, and opportunities for Southern Nevada to create jobs in the local renewable energy industry.

What are the consumer benefits for energy efficiency? Some people don’t seem to like this idea that NV Energy … can charge you for the energy you don’t use because you saved energy through energy efficiency measures.

That’s why we really need to take it out of the hands of the utility and put it back in the hands of consumers by having free and open markets. We need to have both wholesale markets and retail markets that allow for consumers to have choices and in those choices be able to use their own resources in ways that can drive down the total costs of their bills.

Right now in Nevada we have what’s called a vertically integrated utility system where you have one utility that ultimately operates the distribution system, the transmission system and the generation. That’s unlike many parts of the country.

(In other areas of the country) consumers have much more opportunity to control their bills and ensure they can use energy efficiency in ways that benefit them to an optimum level.

What does that mean for the average Nevadan? Does that mean I could hire a contractor and go out and put a solar panel on my roof and get away a little bit from this utility company?

It means much more than that. It means independence and control for the consumer, for the ability to not only put in distributed generation like solar but also to add things like storage, which could assure you power on a 24-hour basis, and in addition to that, add in other resources that could provide you more control and more ability to reduce costs overall. All those things could be resources to the grid that you could bid into or put into a market as part of the grid and do that in a way that would lower your overall costs and give you more control and ensure that you still have reliable, affordable, clean energy services.

You could just basically be putting energy back into the grid and almost be making money or at least offsetting your bill? Is that what other states are doing?

That’s what other areas are doing that have wholesale markets that allow retail customers to participate in those wholesale markets like the whole mid-Atlantic area. That then provides streams of payments back to consumers to then reduce their bills. They can get paid to charge their electric car because their electric car can provide grid regulation services. That’s being done right now in Delaware, and it can be done in Nevada as well. We just have to transfer to a more robust wholesale market and then allow for a retail market too.

What’s preventing us from doing that here in Nevada? Why can’t we do that now?

These markets are voluntary so the owners of the assets, which would be your local utility company, have to voluntarily agree to do these kind of things, to move to these markets. In fact, the new entity that is going to be acquiring NV Energy, which is MidAmerican Corporation, one of their subsidiaries in the West, PacifiCorp, is moving toward this type of market for their subsidiaries in Utah, Montana, Oregon and Idaho.

You’ve also done some work on electric cars. Where do you see that going?

Especially in those areas where we have those organized wholesale markets where electric cars can actually participate in those markets, they’ve already demonstrated a concept available to any car owner: Those cars can now provide regulation service to the grid. Those cars were receiving payments between $7 to $10 per day per car to provide a grid service while they were being plugged in to charge. They were receiving more in payment than it cost them to charge every night. That could be a very strong economic driver to moving people into electric vehicles.

Whenever these renewable projects come up in the state, some of the elected officials are always a little disappointed when they realize a lot of these are just construction jobs and they go away after a very short time.

That’s true when you’re talking about constructing a solar project like the one out of Nellis Air Force Base. Running and operating the project requires very few individuals, but I’m talking about locating distribution centers for the development of new solar projects in Las Vegas or in Northern Nevada, places where panel manufacturers could actually manufacture products or store and warehouse products or assemble systems that could then go out throughout the Western United States. I’m talking about a distribution hub for solar, and that could bring many jobs into the state. There certainly is a huge opportunity and growth for jobs there, but also being a distribution hub throughout the Western United States.

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